Neo-kitsch and the return to the Classics
noun: kitsch art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.
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I’ve heard it all. My paintings compared to Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Rubens, or called Romantic or just Classical. The many attempts of art scholars, critics and writers to coin a descriptive term for my work yielded a variety of mainly “Neo" focused nomenclature, such as: “Neo-Baroque”, “Neo-Renaissance”, “Neo-Mannerist”, “Neo-Classical”, etc. All of which are arguably misnomers.Not that I mind. Alas, many ‘Neo’ definitions have already been used by art historians to describe the works of the many artists and styles that followed the Early-, High- and Post-Renaissance Era, which in itself was a ‘Neo’ reaction to the classical Greco-Roman antiquity.Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and his Neo- hellenistic style known as Baroque can be credited with the legacy of the entire “Neo-Baroque” movement of Romanticism, and Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) as the forefather of Neoclassicism and any “Neo-Renaissance”
pictorial logic, clarity and order that followed in his steps. The 19th c. Pre-Raphaelite movement can be well considered “Neo-Mannerist”, and even Courbet’s revolt against the strict Academic standards can be traced to Hellenistic naturalism which flourished at the end of classical Antiquity.
THE THREE GRACES marble sculpture
Roman replica of a Greek work of the 2nd century B.C.
(Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
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But these artists are long gone and I’m still alive.
All sorts of “Neo-classical” interpretations of classical origins can be seen repeatedly trending in and out of the European Academic traditions for centuries, only to be obliterated by the post-Impressionist Modernism in the name of cultural revolution. Subsequently ridiculed without mercy in all 20th century avant-garde textbooks glorifying the endless liberties of an artist, the entirety of classical art tradition gained disrepute as slavishly non-innovative, cliched and sentimentally “kitschy”.
And here I come into the 21st century, creating paintings very much inspired by the classics.
Most of my “open-minded” art teachers had a hard time dealing with my allegedly “close-minded” realistic renditions that emphasized the clarity, rather than the distortion of my subject matter. So I had to mutilate it frequently to get an approval or a good passing grade at the Academy which in itself became the forum for the elitist worshippers of modernism, ironically perverting its original proclamation of artistic freedom. But that only made me more convinced that conforming to the regime of the fanatical few is not the way to discover the beauty I wanted to share with the world. And incidentally, the mutilation I resorted to in appeasing my teachers gave me a great excuse to attach it to the classical origins, which contributed to the ‘distressed’ style of my depictions.
So why would one want to paint or collect ‘Neo kitsch’?
DANCE (I) by Henri Matisse
One would be hard-pressed to find a single example of representational art that couldn’t be seen as a ‘Neo’ rendition of some prior classical example. Even in the Medieval art, Gauguin’s fauvism or in Picasso’s cubically distorted “Demoiselles d”Avignon” one can discover classical references when one looks beyond what the artists were trying to distort in the name of faith, freedom or originality.
Respectfully, the years of Middle Age and avant-garde are over. In its legacy, the cultural revolutions they spurred have brought us degraded art, repetitively unoriginal and often laughingly lacking merit. And Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is still standing and generating awe from millions of visitors. If one wants to call it kitsch, one is free to do so, just as much as one can call my art ‘Neo kitsch’. But perhaps it’s time to reevaluate our nomenclature and embrace contemporary classical art not in terms of its historical connotations, but as yet another expression of our modern times.
The Young Ladies of Avignon by Pablo Picasso
HANDS II by Tomasz Rut
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Beyond the semantics, there lies a vast area of sensual exploration open not to criticism but rather to our appreciation of the past, present and future. After all, they are all part of our cyclical universe and our
Earthly homes. So before we speak of poor taste and sentimentality, let’s take a look at our own limitations and see what kitsch can give us to expand our viewpoints.